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The real problem with the prisoner release

The problem is not that Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, but how few it releases.

Freed Palestinian prisoner Khaled Al-Azraq greets a young family member in their home in Aida Refugee Camp, West Bank, October 30, 2013. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth gives its readers a daily question, argued by two competing op-eds. On Monday, the question had to do with the coming release of Palestinian prisoners as part of the government’s commitment to Secretary of State John Kerry. Journalist Merav Batito wrote in favor, while Hagai Segal was against freeing terrorists; readers were asked to vote on Facebook.

Segal knows a thing or two about the issue – he is, after all, a released terrorist. In the eighties, Segal was part of what was later called “The Jewish Underground.” He himself took part in an attempts to assassinate Palestinian mayors with bombs. Anther cell murdered three students in Hebron and injured dozens in an attack on an Islamic college, while others planned to bomb the mosques on Temple Mount. The public learned of the Jewish Underground when the Shin bet caught some of its members placing bombs under Palestinian buses in an attempt to conduct a mega-attack that would have killed dozens of civilians.

Most of the underground’s members received light punishments or were later pardoned — even the convicted killers among them spent less than seven years in prison — and one of the them later became the head of the Yesha Council, the main settler political organization. As the cliché goes, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

So cries of protest against the decision to release 26 prisoners who spent more than 20 years behind bars – the common punishment for murder in Israel – are not a matter of principle but of politics: the Right has no problem releasing murderers, only releasing Palestinians.

And that’s the heart of the matter: at any given moment, Israel holds thousands of Palestinians in its prisons, many of them serving long sentences for light offenses like throwing stones or political activities against the occupation. Dozens to hundreds (and occasionally, thousands) are held in administrative detention for months and years, without ever being charged with anything.

The imprisonment of Palestinians is not an issue of law and order, nor is it even part of the fight against terror as most of the Israeli public is only too happy to believe. Rather, it is a part of the military dictatorship Israel installed in the Occupied Territories, a place where: there are no civil rights; there are no civilian trials, only military tribunals run by prosecutors and judges who wear the same uniforms; there is no freedom of movement; there’s no right to protest or to conduct any political activity without the army’s permission, and more.

Dictatorships do not allow space for legitimate political activity. Opposing them means breaking the law. This is why dictatorships have prisons full of political prisoners — and the Israeli prisons in the West Bank are no different. The Hebrew term used in the media to describe them, ‘security prisoners,’ was invented to disguise the fact that these are political prisoners whose main sin was the opposing the occupation, at times using unarmed means that wouldn’t make them qualified to join the leagues of terrorists like former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir or Nelson Mandela.

For every prisoner Israel releases it locks up at least another one. This is the real revolving door in place, thanks to which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have seen the inside of an Israeli lock-up facility.

Because the mass detention of civilians is an inherent part of the occupation, every person who opposes the occupation needs to call for releasing prisoners, no matter how unpopular that might be with the Israeli public. The problem is not that Israel is releasing Palestinian prisoners, but that it releases so few of them.

Originally published at Time Out Tel Aviv in Hebrew. 

Related:
PHOTOS: Right-wing Israelis protest Palestinian prisoner release
Hunger-striker Samer Issawi is another statistic in an unjust legal system

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  • COMMENTS

    1. yolanda

      Pure bullshit !!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      The problem with the prisoner release is that terrorists – Jewish, Muslim or otherwise – should rot behind the bars indefinetely.

      Reply to Comment
      • Including Begin, Shamir and their terrorists?

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Muhammad The Prophet and Jesus Navin.

          Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            You should think this through, Tresspasser, cause Israel was established by terrorism and massacring or expelling Nonjewish citizens.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Countless entities were established by massacring and expelling non-whoever. So what?

            Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          Thank you.

          Reply to Comment
    3. It is my understanding that those released under the Kerry deal have all served a decade plus in prison. They come out older and represent a time now past. Releasing, say, rock throwers dents a present population control mechanism, with the released overall quite young, probably more angry, so ready to continue opposition. Asking the State to release rock throwers is asking it to self inhibit its population control power, and this it will not do.

      Tellingly, settlement construction is more important than old murderers. The latter are probably exhausted (or have even changed their thinking), and can be monitored and rearrested; the past suggests some will be rearrested even if they don’t really do much of anything. Vigilance needs be prescient. Settlement construction is necessary for the ruling coalition. More, it asserts a State policy indicating Greater Israel is an acceptable option. The chosen option is one of placating the PA hierarchy (“we must show our people something!”) while expanding effective Israeli sovereignty.

      As for the Israeli Jewish terrorists, nationalism forgives much in love. Until the past is not condemned but rather averted as a future I see no break of the not very zen like circle of blame discourse in your land. This applies to the Independence War, Nakba, and even suicide bombing, as well as said Israeli Jewish terrorists. One has to admit that all of these are part of what has made us (well, actually, you all) what we are, then say no more. Israelis are not going to apologize for the Nakba by crying out against their State’s independence; nor are Palestinians overall going to condemn the suicide bombers of the past in toto. But both sides can say bombing and expulsion/appropriation have lead us to this impasse and we must all forswear these things.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron Gross

      “Dictatorship” is just name-calling. Every belligerent occupation is like a dictatorship, including the Allied occupations of Germany and Japan after the war. They were as much dictatorships as the Israeli occupation of the territories, but I don’t think you’d call them that, because you presumably approve of them.

      “Security prisoner” is an accurate term if the function, the reason for existence, of the occupation is to provide security in this war. That question is arguable, but if one accepts that premise – as you yourself sometimes seem to do, even though you believe that the occupation is wrong – then prisoners who illegally resisted the occupation are rightly called security prisoners.

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        I think what the occupied people are illegally resisting is the fact that the occupation is obviously just a cover for continued illegal expansion of The Jewish State.

        Israel walks in and starts taking things, and people resist having their things taken, and those people are now called security threats. It’s a logic loop, a self-fulfilling dogma.

        At the root of this issue, at the root of the legitimacy of The Jewish State, is the idea that Jews were there first, or Jews were there the longest, or Jews were given it by God. Regardless of anyone else who lived there, the Jews come first. What a bunch of very convenient religious lunacy.

        Now to the question of what can I do about it. Nothing. Except to vent frustration in posts such as this. I’m not changing any of your minds no matter what I point out. I’m not giving anyone any epiphamies by the things I point out. If my elected Representative in the US Congress doesn’t listen to me, doesn’t reply, doesn’t care, then I can’t expect anyone will. Just pay your tax dollars and don’t get caught saying Anything bad about our closest and bestest buddy in the whole world Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          I’m afraid that you are gravely mistaken.

          At the root of the legitimacy of The Jewish State there lay two very basic ideas:
          1) that Jews have a right to have a homeland, i.e. a place where they would enjoy full civilian, political and religious rights
          2) The only proven (archaeologically etc.) and undisputable (other than by some Arab scholars) place of origin of the Jewish people is south-western part of the land of Canaan (aka land of Israel, Judea, Syria Palaestina)

          A question: If Gypsies come to UN and ask for an autonomy in a sparsely populated deserted area, should they be granted it?

          Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            “I’m afraid that you are gravely mistaken.

            At the root of the legitimacy of The Jewish State there lay two very basic ideas:
            1) that Jews have a right to have a homeland, i.e. a place where they would enjoy full civilian, political and religious rights”

            If Jews (or other groups) have a right to a “homeland” please explain:
            1.) How does this legitimize a state? The Jewish Zionist and first General Attorney of the then mandated state of Palestine Norman Bentwich explained that a national home “signifies a territory in which a people, without receiving rights of political sovereignty, has nevertheless a recognized legal position and the opportunity of developing its moral, social, and intellectual ideas.”
            2.) Do Jews also have a right to a homeland/state in the US or anywhere else?
            3.) Do Palestinians have a right to a homeland in all of Palestine?
            4.) Do Palestinians have a right to a homeland within Israel or anywhere else?

            “2) The only proven (archaeologically etc.) and undisputable (other than by some Arab scholars) place of origin of the Jewish people is south-western part of the land of Canaan (aka land of Israel, Judea, Syria Palaestina)”

            Doesn’t legitimize anything.

            “At the root of the Palestinian Arab resistance, there lay two very basic ideas as well:
            1)Palestine (aka. Canaan, Judea, Syria Palaestina) is the holy Muslim land because Muhammad visited it 1500 ago on a flying horse.”

            BS. They Arab citizens of Palestine were the vast majority of citizens of Palestine before 1948. Palestinian resistance is about restoring the human, collective and private rights.

            “2) Jews have no right to have equal civil, political and religious rights in a Muslim land.”

            BS again. The Arab delegation in 1947 proposed a unitary, democratic state with equal for all its citizens including minority rights. The only state not granting equal rights to its citizens is Israel. Nonjews are not even considered as nationals, but only as citizens (Germany once had the same concept, too). More about the inequality of this Apartheid state:
            http://www.itisapartheid.org/laws.html

            “A question: If Gypsies come to UN and ask for an autonomy in a sparsely populated deserted area, should they be granted it?”
            That is a domestic issue, not an international. The UN itself does not have any areas to grant or to partition and like countries doesn’t even has the right to even touch the territorial integrity of other countries. So first of all the native population (including the Gypsies amongst it citizens) should be asked, if they want to grant other Gypsies – who want to immigrant in masses – privileged immigration and settling rights. Than it should be asked, if they want to grant this group autonomy. And then it should be asked, if they want cede a part of their territory to this group so they can create a state of their own. If the majority of the citizens agree to all this questions, than yes. Btw, there you have the illegality of Israel in a nutshell.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >If Jews (or other groups) have a right to a “homeland” please explain:
            >1.) How does this legitimize a state? The Jewish Zionist and first General Attorney of the then mandated state of Palestine Norman Bentwich explained that a national home “signifies a territory in which a people, without receiving rights of political sovereignty, has nevertheless a recognized legal position and the opportunity of developing its moral, social, and intellectual ideas.”

            The state had became a necessity when people A denied people B their basic rights.

            >2.) Do Jews also have a right to a homeland/state in the US or anywhere else?

            Given that at this moment Jews do have a homeland this question is irrelevant.

            >3.) Do Palestinians have a right to a homeland in all of Palestine?

            You really could not be comparing Jews to “Palestinians”

            Jews have well over 2000 years of history. “Palestinian” history starts back in 1960′s, when the story about evil Jooz came and uprooted furry “Palestinians” was made up.

            Jews have distinctive culture and language. “Palestinians” culture and language are that of Arabs.

            Jews have distinctive religion. “Palestinians”‘s religion is hardly distinctive either.

            Since the very existence of the “Palestinian people” is highly questionable, it is not possible to discuss whether some fictional tribe should have a right to anything.

            4.) Do Palestinians have a right to a homeland within Israel or anywhere else?

            Oh, Palestinian Arabs have a plethora of homelands, 22 states to be exact.

            >Doesn’t legitimize anything.

            Maybe, maybe not.

            >“At the root of the Palestinian Arab resistance, there lay two very basic ideas as well:
            1)Palestine (aka. Canaan, Judea, Syria Palaestina) is the holy Muslim land because Muhammad visited it 1500 ago on a flying horse.”

            >BS. They Arab citizens of Palestine were the vast majority of citizens of Palestine before 1948.

            1) In 1948 there was no “Palestinian” state and therefore there could not be any citizens of it.
            2) How does that contradict the fact that they do believe that Muhammad had visited Jerusalem on a flying horse?

            >Palestinian resistance is about restoring the human, collective and private rights.

            Oh wow. Apparently, “Palestinians” in your dimension are not quite the same as here, and you have no organizations such as Hamas or Islamic jihad. Otherwise you would have read their respective charters and would not post nonsense.

            1) “Human rights” are inherently alien to any Arab group/people. One can’t restore something which never existed.

            2) Collective right to work the state land (miri) was granted by state and could be revoked by state.

            3) Great most of Palestinian Arabs who were able to produce deeds or similar documents are living in their own homes rather happily. The one unlucky percent is of hardly any concern.

            >“2) Jews have no right to have equal civil, political and religious rights in a Muslim land.”

            >BS again. The Arab delegation in 1947 proposed a unitary, democratic state with equal for all its citizens including minority rights.

            The Arab delegation could not seriously propose anything like that due to two main reasons.

            1) Democracy as such does not exist in Arab world, never existed and probably won’t exist ever.
            2) Discrimination of Jews and Christians is enshrined in Koran

            >The only state not granting equal rights to its citizens is Israel.

            Dude, where are you studying? Tell me so I’ll make sure my kids won’t get there by mistake.
            Couple examples out of top of my head:
            1) China has a different rules for minorities such as Tibetans
            2) Saudi Arabia and many other Arab states won’t give 50% of their population – women – equal rights
            3) Arab states again – with their discrimination against homosexual citizens

            > Nonjews are not even considered as nationals, but only as citizens

            This is surely most idiotic thing you had written today.

            >(Germany once had the same concept, too). More about the inequality of this Apartheid state:
            http://www.itisapartheid.org/laws.html

            Dude, you really should a bit less read articles written by dishonest idiots for simple-minded idiots.

            “Before 1948, Palestinians owned 90% of the land in Palestine; in 1952 they owned 3%” A lie. State owned most of the land.

            “Israel has managed to prohibit non-Jewish [i.e., Palestinian] citizens from acquiring land or leasing land, including land taken from them under various statutes 93% of the land in Israel has this prohibition”

            93% of land belongs to the state and can’t be sold to anyone. At any rate, compared to the death penalty for selling land to Jews imposed by Palestinians, these laws are definitely in place.

            “Creates a system of discriminatory zoning and freezes existing Arab villages”. More propaganda lies. You really should visit some Arab villages in Israel.

            >”while allowing expansion of Jewish settlements. It also re-classifies many Arab villages as “non-residential,” thereby creating “unrecognized villages” – villages that do not receive basic municipal services such as water and electricity; all buildings are threatened with demolition orders.”

            There is no state in the world where people can pay no taxes, start a settlement where they please and demand that the state would provide them with water and electricity.

            “Seizes thousands of dunums from Bedouins in order to expand Jewish settlements.”

            Do you know who and when did gave these lands to Bedouins? State did. And explained that it is temporary.

            “This bill allows admission committees in 300 Jewish-majority communities to reject applicants for residency who do not meet vague “social suitability” criteria. The measure anchors in law a practice that has been the basis for unjustly rejecting applications by Palestinian Arabs.”

            1) A 100% democratic measure.
            2) Justice for Arabs is not quite the same as justice for the Western people. It is just to marry a 9 years old girl, it is just to kill your own daughter or sister for dating a wrong men, it is just to kill if someone is laughing at your belief that some guy visited Jerusalem on a flying horse…

            I could keep on and on indefinitely…

            >“A question: If Gypsies come to UN and ask for an autonomy in a sparsely populated deserted area, should they be granted it?”
            That is a domestic issue, not an international. The UN itself does not have any areas to grant or to partition and like countries doesn’t even has the right to even touch the territorial integrity of other countries.

            The question did not imply that there is a native population developed enough to have a recognized state, nor that the territory for the future authonomy is a part of a sovereign state.

            >So first of all the native population (including the Gypsies amongst it citizens) should be asked, if they want to grant other Gypsies – who want to immigrant in masses – privileged immigration and settling rights.

            Why would non-Gypsies who have no sovereignty over the land be asked anything?

            >Than it should be asked, if they want to grant this group autonomy.

            Stateless savages can not be asked whether they want to grant someone autonomy – they would not know what is the meaning of the word.

            >And then it should be asked, if they want cede a part of their territory to this group so they can create a state of their own.

            Nowhere in question it was implied that the territory in question belongs to anyone.

            >If the majority of the citizens agree to all this questions, than yes.

            Please re-read the question.

            >Btw, there you have the illegality of Israel in a nutshell.

            Btw, Palestinian Arabs did not privately own most of the land of Palestine, nor Palestinian Arabs had a state/country, neither did they exercised any kind of sovereignty on the land.

            Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          continued.

          At the root of the Palestinian Arab resistance, there lay two very basic ideas as well:
          1)Palestine (aka. Canaan, Judea, Syria Palaestina) is the holy Muslim land because Muhammad visited it 1500 ago on a flying horse
          2) Jews have no right to have equal civil, political and religious rights in a Muslim land.

          Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        “… then prisoners who illegally resisted the occupation are rightly called security prisoners.”

        Resisting occupation is not illegal, it’s a right. Using violence against civilians is illegal. But what is occupation except using violence against a whole nation? And this ccupation itself has become illegal, because it serves the illegal annexation and illegal settling of occupied land as the illegal exploitation of its resources.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >Resisting occupation is not illegal, it’s a right.

          Nonsense. By your logic Germans had some special right to resist Soviets and Japanese had a similar right to resist Americans.

          >Using violence against civilians is illegal.

          More nonsense.

          >But what is occupation except using violence against a whole nation?

          And what is war than? You definitions suck. Change your professor XD

          >And this occupation itself has become illegal

          Oh, so it was legal at a certain point?

          >because it serves the illegal annexation

          And what would be a legal annexation?

          >and illegal settling of occupied land as the illegal exploitation of its resources.

          Such a shame that the convention concerning belligerent occupation explicitly implies that only a sovereign state might be considered belligerently occupied by another state.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Jon Garfunkel

      Noam – the link for “without ever being charged with anything” is broken. Sad, because that’s what I wanted to read.

      Point(s) of information here:

      1. Why were these particular prisoners released?

      2. In conventional jurisprudence, one expects expressions of regret as a condition of clemency — was there any expectation of that here?

      3. Was there any consideration of releasing a multiple more of prisoners with lighter sentences?

      4. Have any human rights organizations managed a database of Palestinians in prison? (maybe that’s the link above that was broken)

      Reply to Comment

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